Some thoughts from various band members in relation to why we do what we do…
Carnival: An expression of freedom involving laughter, mockery, dancing, masquerade and revelry. Occupation of the street in which the symbols and ideals of authority are subverted. When the marginalised take over the centre and create a world turned upside down. You cannot just watch carnival, you take part.
An unexpected carnival is revolutionary. (Taken from a RTS poster for J18) Over the past few years in the overdeveloped countries of the West there have been a series of mass mobilisations, aimed at disrupting business as usual for globalised capitalism, and in particular, for it’s political and economic elite. Three tactical approaches to contesting power on the streets have emerged from these mobilisations. These could be called respectively the black, the white and the carnival blocs. Although the black and white blocs have been the focus of much spectacular corporate and leftist media attention, the tactics of the carnival bloc has generally been ignored.
l bloc as a tactic exemplified at J18 in London 1999, S26 at Prague in 2000 or Barcelona J24 in 2001, offers an alternative way to critic and disrupt capitalist social relations without getting locked into a dialectic of escalating physical force between young able bodied militants and the cops. Unlike the roving hit and smash squads of the black bloc tactic, or the non-violent but assertive tactics of the white overalls, the carnival bloc offers a zone through which the whole range of people, not just the physically confident able bodied adults, can act together in challenging the power of capitalism to order our existences.
Carnival as a tactic is highly effective way of disrupting and critiquing the ‘business as normal’ worlds of work and consumption and of liberating social space. It moves beyond the leftist / militant approaches which limit our actions to being merely demonstrations of our ‘victim’ status in relation to capital and can incite / excite members of the general population to take a part in the collective realisation of our desires for a socially and ecologically just world. In the UK the carnival bloc as a tactic has it’s roots in the street parties of RTS, but unlike the largely static street parties the carnival bloc aims at being tactically mobile.
The Immediatism of Carnival Capitalism, the dominant system of organising economic production and reproduction (and environmental destruction) in our society, is above all a set of social relationships. If the anti-capitalist movement managed to overthrow the state organisation today, it would probably be restored or a new one formed in a matter of weeks. This is because the ideas and ways of relating to each other, which sustain the capitalist system, have been internalised by us all. But the tactic of carnival, with its subversive sense of fun and pleasure, offers us a way of liberating ourselves from such internalised oppression. Along with challenging the authority of the policeman on the street, through our playful resistance we can also challenge the policemen in our heads Carnival as an experience brings into question, subverts and overturns the hierarchical dualities that shape our thinking under capitalism.
These thought patterns structure our everyday lives and lock us into patterns of behaviour which value and privilege duty above pleasure, work over play, society over nature, male over female, straight over queer, white over black and above all, the power that abstract wealth or money over our directly experienced sense of our human needs and desires. In contrast a carnival is a fluid, plural and collective situation where no one viewpoint can lay claim to a monopoly on truth without laying itself open to the critics of mockery and merriment.
Carnival is a sensory feast, which allows us to the space to give expression to our dreams and desires. Within an insurgent carnival formation, a group of sambaistas can play a key tactical role. The rhythmical sound creates a mobile temporarily liberated space within which the carnival can coalesce. Speaking to people in a way more immediate than spoken words, It creates an immediate uplifting feeling, giving people the sense of self-confidence that will allow them to step off the pavement and into the street. On the Mayday 2001 anti-capitalist protests in London, police tactics appeared to be aimed at containing the protests within the Section 60 cordon for hours on end in order to demoralise, exhaust and generally bore the assembled crowds into submission. While it may have worked to a certain extent at Oxford Circus, down the road at Holles St, we were able to maintain our spirits in the face of adversity through the sound of the samba.
Why we do it?
It’s fun, makes us feel good, sexy, rockin’, lifts our spirits in the face of adversity! Immediate, spontaneous direct form of action. Immediacy is everything. It’s a form of protest in itself, makes it’s own statement. It’s good because it transcends spoken language and moves into a different form of expression. One where we can communicate clearly through music. This then means that we as a band can be political without the need for speech and as words become less important, maybe we can work towards transcending ideology. Who we are and how we are becoming the statement for why we do it. In fact because what we do is inspiring, unifying and solidarity creating, it could be said that this is an expression of resistance in itself.
The feeling we get from being in part of a ‘cohesive’ group that might not necessarily agree on everything or echo the same views but is united and can show its solidarity nonetheless. It generates a real feeling of community which grows as we play and work more closely together. It has the positive effect of generating this feeling of community for spectators or participants who aren’t in the band, as the feeling of dancing and making rhythms unifies everyone, hopefully leading to links within the community as a whole. Its angle and direction for protesting and demonstrating which has given a new impetus to political action. Feels a lot more fun than the old days of demonstrating with people shouting boring slogans and remaining disconnected even whilst at the same protest, due to lack of involvement. When we play we create a sort of unity in action which brings everyone together. Also makes everyone grin like idiots.
The carnival element that is essential to what we do give us a new found freedom to be whatever we want to be, it means we can express ourselves through dressing up, it’s fine to wear black if that floats yer boat, but if you like dressing like mermaid, why not indulge yourself, who’s to say that we have to separate art and life. What we do is part of a long tradition of mixing music and politics. Look at Trades and Labour Union bands, Welsh voice choirs, miners brass bands, even the Diggers were at it 350 years ago with the Winstanley written ‘World Turned Upside Down’. And not forgetting the blocos afros from the Salvador area in Bahia, Brazil who used samba and samba fusion to generate feelings of independence, pride and poltical dissent.
The samba experience is as a very positive life-affirming way to protest, this is what so many people like about it… but we can also be be an intimidatory factor in certain situations. The police have come to see us (a bunch of pink and silver renegades) as a threatening force, often because they see our strength in moving large crowds of people, maintaining momentum towards a desired end. For example playing in Placa de Catalunya at the anti-World Bank meetings. Towards the end of the fiesta it was decided to head to a different part of Barcelona to play in front of the police station where those attending a peaceful demo earlier on in the day had been arrested. Because the samba band played, the rest of the crowd followed on. If we hadn’t played, I think it would have been much more difficult to generate such prisoner support. As the world and the way we protest change, we are looking at new ways of organising.
Learning to organise ourselves from unwieldy numbers of people into a cohesive affirmative group is an important part of this. If we show our group as a microcosm of a happier society than we just need to scale up to increase the momentum. Bringing carnival into the realm of protest and changing how we demonstrate means that we are beginning to create our own spaces at protest. Including dancing, music and art as legitimate forms of expression in the way that we want to do it means that often we are able to create temporary autonomous zones when we govern ourselves even if only for short periods of time. Showing that we can self-organise is an extremely powerful way to display our strength. Traditional all social change has been as a result of violent upheaval incurring many casualties. ROR shows the possibility of peaceful social change…. sort of like the ‘pink’ velvet revolution.
Social change / revolution should be accessible to all. Often the only people organising are fit, healthy young men and women, using music and carnival enables great swathes of people who don’t necessarily fit this bill to participate and make it their protest. Maybe you don’t want to be a tactician or are unable to be involved in this way, but that can’t stop you from playing a instrument, making props, or covering yourself in glitter, and showing your dissatisfaction that way.
So – Go on – Do It Yerself – make some subversive noise…